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Bernard Phelan
bernard phelan

Iranian government pardons Irish citizen Bernard Phelan after imprisoning him on spying charges

The Irish/French citizen was arrested last year amid nationwide protests in the country.

LAST UPDATE | 12 May 2023

THE FAMILY OF Bernard Phelan, an Irish citizen who is to be released after spending more than six months imprisoned in Iran on spying charges, have said they “cannot express how relieved” they are after receiving the news about his pardon.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Bernard’s sister Caroline Phelan said: “We received confirmation of Bernard’s release today and cannot express how relieved we are.

“So many people have been involved in making this moment happen and we want to thank everybody.”

Caroline appealed for privacy to be given to the family after Bernard is returned to them.

“Bernard has been held captive for over 200 days, so at this time we gratefully ask that he is given the time and space needed to recover,” Caroline said.

Phelan is on his way home to the family, according to Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin.

He has been released alongside Benjamin Briére, a French national who was imprisoned with himd in Mashhad prison.

Amnesty International, which had called for Phelan’s release, accused the Iranian government of human rights violations for how he was detained.

“Bernard Phelan’s detention was arbitrary, due to the gravity of violations of his fair trial rights, including the right to access an independent lawyer of his own choosing, to adequate defence and to meaningfully challenge the legality of his detention before an independent and impartial court,” it said in a statement.

“For this and other human rights violations, Bernard Phelan must be accorded an enforceable right to reparations from the Iranian authorities.

“Amnesty International remains deeply concerned about the Iranian authorities’ practice of using detained dual and foreign nationals as leverage, and again urges all states whose nationals are or have been detained at any point in Iran to promptly examine whether the deprivation of liberty amounts to an act of hostage-taking, and if so, to ensure accountability.”

Earlier today, in a statement released on social media, the Iranian Embassy in Dublin said the 64-year-old would be “pardoned” and released on “consular and humanitarian grounds”.

It said there had been “constructive diplomatic engagement” between Ireland and Iran on Phelan’s imprisonment, which arose after he was charged with “spying” while in the country.

Phelan, who holds dual-citizenship in both Ireland and France, was working in Iran as a tourism consultant, according to his family.

The Tipperary man was arrested while taking pictures of a mosque in October last year amid major protests against the Iranian government’s regime which saw millions of citizens take to the streets.

At the time of his arrest, he was travelling on a French passport, having lived in Paris for 30 years.

The Phelan family launched a petition and campaign to ask both the Irish and French government to help free the Tipperary man from Iran on humanitarian grounds.

Last month, Phelan was said to be on a hunger strike and was suffering badly due to not receiving the correct aftercare for an eye operation he had last summer.

According to the campaign, Phelan has had to “endure harsh prison conditions, including weeks in solitary confinement and freezing temperatures”.

In a statement this afternoon, president Michael D Higgins thanked “all of those, on all sides, who have worked to secure this positive outcome for Bernard Phelan and his family”.

He added: “Mr Phelan’s release will come as a particular relief to Bernard’s father, Vincent, with whom I have been in correspondence, and to all of his family and friends who have worked with such dignity to secure his return home.

“As President of Ireland, I strongly welcome his release by the Iranian authorities, after what I know has been a very distressing time.”

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the “last seven months have been a very difficult ordeal for Bernard and for his family”. 

“I am pleased and relieved that this is now at an end,” the Tánaiste said, adding that he also welcomes the release on Benjamin Briére, a French national who was imprisoned with Bernard in Mashhad prison.”

The release of the two men was greeted by Emmanuel Macron in a tweet as a relief.

Macron said: “I welcome their release. Thank you to everyone who worked on this outcome.

“We will continue to act for the return of our compatriots still detained in Iran.”

“Many people have worked tirelessly for this outcome over many months. I am deeply appreciative of the efforts of the French government and my counterpart, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, for their work to resolve this case,” Martin said. 

He said he spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein AmirAbdollahian, yesterday.

“I acknowledge the assistance of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in relation to Mr Phelan’s release,” the Tánaiste said. 

“I am also very grateful to our consular team in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, our diplomats on the ground in our Mission in Tehran, and our Ambassador in Turkey accredited to Iran,” he said.

“I look forward to Bernard’s imminent arrival back home.”

Vigils were held out the Iranian Embassy in Dublin seeking Phelan’s release earlier this year.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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